Kristina Wong Transforms ‘Sweatshop Overlord’ into ‘Hero’

Like all good solo performers, Kristina Wong is a storyteller. Like all good storytellers, Kristina Wong is a keen observer of the world around her. And like all good storytellers, Kristina Wong finds ways of making her stories come alive for her audiences.

La Jolla Playhouse has Kristina Wong in residence at the Potiker Theatre until October 16. If you enjoy a good story told well, you should have an excellent time as she recounts how she became a “Sweatshop Overlord.”

Ms. Wong, showing off her sewing skills

In some ways, Ms. Wong’s premise is a cheat. She’s describing to her audience how she recruited a group of friends to respond to the 2020 COVID crisis. As many of us recall vividly, COVID snuck up on Americans, and there were widely varying estimates of its impact. There was plenty of speculation that COVID was a temporary phenomenon, sure to have passed not later than Easter Sunday. The Federal government was racing to understand the virus and to develop treatments for it. Meanwhile, shutdowns became the norm, and people were scrambling to stay COVID-free however they could.

Ms. Wong was also caught in the crisis, and her solo show, “Kristina Wong for Public Office” was shut down.

In response, she called upon the aforementioned group of friends, whom she dubbed “Aunties,” to sew masks for what had become known as “essential workers.” There were many challenges to be overcome, and burnout became a constant threat. Ms. Wong details these, her group’s successes, and how she eventually took to saying, “no,” to some requests as a way of avoiding burnout. From these experiences, Ms. Wong developed definite opinions about the COVID crisis, opinions that she freely shares with her audience.

She also made an effort to engage the audience directly, via Caite Heyner’s projections and the dreaded “audience participation.” The former worked quite well, the latter not so much (and caused at least one reviewer – me – to “ding” her for it). These efforts served to “stretch” what was said to be a 90-minute, no intermission, performance to closer to two hours the night I saw it.

showing off the results of her work

By the way, “Sweatshop Overlord” is an ironic title, if you haven’t already figured that out. And Ms. Wong surprised the audience by having several “Aunties” in attendance stand and be recognized for their heroic efforts. If you don’t leave the theatre with your heart warmed to a considerable degree, you may have a different definition of “heroic” than most people.

You may also find yourself smiling at your fellow theatregoers while exiting the theatre. That’s not a bad thing at all.

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord performs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm, with matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The performances are held in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre on the La Jolla Playhouse campus, which is part of UC San Diego. Parking is available in a campus structure, and a shuttle bus ferries patrons to within a short walk to the theatre.

The creative team includes Junghyun Georgia Lee, Scenic Designer; Linda Cho, Costume Designer; Amith Chandrashaker, Lighting Designer; Mikhail Fiksel, Sound Designer; Caite Hevner, Projection Design; and Jess Slocum, Production Stage Manager.

Kristina Wong program

Bill Eadie

In addition to reviewing theatre for San Diego Story, Bill also reviews for TalkinBroadway.com. He is a member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association. Bill is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at San Diego State University.

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